By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — Officials are exploring the feasibility of contracting with a firm to provide social workers to work with the Naugatuck Police Department.
“We feel a collaboration with social workers and police will increase the quality of service that we can provide for the community,” Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said.
The police department’s budget request for the 2021-22 fiscal year includes $146,432 for a licensed social worker. The cost and plan is still very much preliminary. Officials are waiting on bids from firms to see how much it would cost for social work services and how they will implement it.
Controller Allyson Bruce said the borough was preparing to issue a request for quotations last week for a firm to provide an experienced and licensed social worker for about 32 hours per week. The social worker would respond to calls and go out with police officers, she said. She said officials expect to receive responses to the RFQ well before the budget process is finished.
The Board of Finance will do its final review of the proposed budget in April. The Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance is scheduled to adopt a budget in May.
McAllister said officers often encounter situations where people need social services, including situations involving substance abuse, behavioral and emotional issues, children who might need services, and people struggling with housing. If the proposal moves forward, he said there are many different ways the department could use a social worker.
This wouldn’t be the first time the police department has worked with a social worker. In late 2019, the state Department of Children and Families provided a social worker to work with the department, but McAllister said DCF suspended the program.
The social worker from DCF had a limited scope of services compared to what police envision for the present proposal, he said.
Board of Finance Chairman Daniel Sheridan said the board needs more information about the proposal before deciding on it.
“If it’s something that as a community that we want to do, then we need to provide the funding,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan said the borough also needs more direction from the state.
Part of the police accountability bill passed by the state legislature last year required police departments to determine the feasibility and potential impact of using social workers to respond to certain calls for assistance.
“It may not be a community decision,” Sheridan said. “It may be a state decision.”
The Waterbury Police Department has been working with a crisis intervention clinician who is also a licensed social worker since 2006, Sgt. Robert Davis said. The department now works with two clinicians, who are provided by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“It has been extremely beneficial to the public and our department. It has allowed people to receive the proper attention and medical treatment at the time of their incident,” Davis said. “It also allows our officers to be better prepared for future calls or incidents that may occur.”
The department uses the program, in part, as a tool to help people who are struggling with mental health issues to get them care, Davis said.
Last year, Waterbury police responded to 1,622 crisis or mental health incidents, he said, and a clinician responded to 327 of those calls. He said the clinicians also responded to other calls in the community.
“This is a critical component of providing better community service, compassion and understanding when dealing with human emotion,” Davis said.
The overall budget request for the Naugatuck Police Department is $7.5 million, an increase in spending of $368,119, or nearly 4.8%, from this fiscal year. The increase includes $174,925 worth of salary raises.
Sheridan said the overall budget proposal is fair.
“I think it’s a reasonable budget,” Sheridan said.